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Hopes And Ashes: The Birth Of Modern Times 1929–1939

December 2023
1min read

by Alice G. Marquis; The Free Press; 261 pages; $22.50.

The historian Alice Marquis sees the decade that began with the Crash and ended on the brink of global war as the era in which high and mass culture met on a “battleground where … the last aristocracy—the peerage of art, music, literature—gave way to the democratic impulse.” In her spirited and highly entertaining study of the birth of modern mass culture, she examines several of the arenas where it took place: radio, spreading across the country and developing the voracious and indiscriminate appetite for material—great, puerile, significant, tawdry—that it would bequeath its stepchild television; Hollywood, where the nation’s greatest writers grappled (under conditions far pleasanter than the myth would have us believe) with talking pictures; Time Inc., which did much to invent modern market research and with it killed off an earlier generation of mass-circulation magazines; the Museum of Modern Art and its amazing success in legitimizing for the American public the waves of European artistic innovation. The book ends with the 1939 World’s Fair. That supreme marriage of mass and high culture, where Depression-weary crowds saw what the promoters envisioned for the World of Tomorrow, became an augury of what really was about to happen as European pavilions vanished in the fair’s second season because the countries they represented had ceased to exist.

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